Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"Convict Waltz" - Iry Lejeune

Amede Ardoin influenced Cajun musicians for years after he death.  Like many of Iry Lejeune's tunes, the Convict Waltz is based on an Amede Ardoin tune, this time entitled "Valse a Abe" recorded in December 1929 for Columbia (#40511).  However, the first instance of this melody would be released one month prior to Ardoin by the duo Bartmon Montet & Joswell Dupuis in New Orleans entitled "L'Abandonner (The Forsaken)" for Victor records (#22211).  Also known as either "99 Year Waltz" or "La Valse De Quatre-Vingt-Dix-Neuf Ans", Iry recorded his version of the song for the Folk Star label (#1195) and it was released in 1954.

Iry would be partnered with Alfred "Duckhead" Cormier on guitar and Cajun fiddler Wilson Granger.  Granger's first stint with Iry was around 1948 when Earl Demary occasionally would hire Iry to join the Musical Aces for dances around Lake Charles and southeast Texas.  He recalls recording several songs with Lejeune, recording with Ed Shuler far from the Goldband Studios:
We made those records at Iry's house.  He had the recorder on the kitchen table.2  
Iry Lejeune
Iry sang as if two centuries of Acadian hardship were gushing out of him and him alone. The phrase "condemned for 99 years", signifying being condemned forever, sometimes meant a physical sentence, but usually, it was a metaphor for an emotional imprisonment.  His wonderfully full and melodic accordion was usually backed by a simple guitar and fiddle.  He expressed that he wanted to record the tune before he died.


Oh, moi je m'en vas, condamne pour quatre vignt dix-neuf ans,
C'est juste rapport aux paroles toi, t'as dit qui m'a fait soufert aussi longtemps pour ca.

Oh, tout les soirs,
Moi, je me couche avec des larmes dans mes yeux,
C'est pas de toi, bebem je m'ennuuie autant,
C'est des chers enfants j'connais qui miserent.

Oh, tite fille c'est pas la peine,
Tes menteries vont rester sur ta conscience,
La verite va peut-etre te fair du mal,
Mais quelqu'un va toujours te recompenser.
Wilson Granger

Previously, Alphee Bergeron had used the melody for his tune he called "Eunice Waltz" in 1948.  The title would be re-used later as a different song.  Aldus Roger had worked the melody into his "Lifetime Waltz" around the previous year for Eddie Shuler and Bob Tanner's TNT label.  In 1959, Huey Meaux and Andrew Cormier recorded the song for the Jin label.  In the 1960s, Milton Molitor, along with Austin Pitre, would use the melody of "Valse de Bambocheur" and give it the name "99 Year Waltz" for Dr. Harry Oster's field recordings. Later, many others would record the tune such as the Balfas and Vin Bruce.
I'm going, condemned for 99 years,
It's just because of the words you told me,
That make me suffer so long for that.

Every night I go to bed with tears in my eyes,
It's not you I miss so much,
It's my dear children, who are miserable.

Oh, my dear, it's no use,
Your lies will stay on your conscience,
The truth may hurt you,
But someone will always pay you back.
The lyric "te recompenser" translates to "pay you back" but in this context, it seems to be a cynical response, more along the lines of "you always think you're right". The wronged lover in "The Convict Waltz" implies that the words spoken by this woman have caused his imprisonment.  Everything he did had a poignant beauty; joyful in tune but sad in lyric.  Shuler recalls:
He could squeeze in more notes and still sound smooth and easy.  He could take a verse and stick in triplets and finger executions that no other Cajun artist ever managed.  Even his songs were different, his songs told a story with reasonable situations.3
Eddie would later release the song on 45 RPM, first on the flipside of "Don't Get Married" (#1219) using the maroon Folk-Star label and later on the flipside of "La Fille La Vove" (#1195) using his yellow Goldband label.

  






  1. Iry Lejeune: Wailin the Blues Cajun Style by Ron Yule
  2. Louisiana Fiddlers By Ron Yule
  3. South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous By John Broven
  4. Cajun and Creole Music Makers
  5. Musiciens Cadiens et Créoles - Rigide / the Makers of Cajun Music By Barry Jean Ancelet
  6. http://npmusic.org/AmedeArdoinSources.txt
  7. http://www.louisianafolklife.org/lt/articles_essays/creole_art_oral_poetry_caj.html

Find:

As Good As It Gets: Cajun (Disky, 2000)
American French Music (Goldband, 2000)
Iry Lejeune: Cajun's Greatest: The Definitive Collection (Ace, 2003)

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